This weekend: Callicoon catches ramp fever

Ramps! Photo by Shira Golding; published under Creative Commons license.

It's that time of year again: Those glorious few weeks of spring when the food world goes mad for ramps. While New York diners must hunt down the savory little onions in gastropubs and bistros, lucky Catskills foragers can find them in their own backyards.

On Saturday, May 4, farmer and Ramps Fest organizer Jen McGlashan will lead interested parties on a Ramp Tramp from Channery Hill Farm in Callicoon, where she'll fill you in on the fine art of foraging for these piquant goodies, rich in vitamins A and C. And it is an art. 

“Ramps reproduce very slowly, so you have to be very mindful when harvesting them,” McGlashan explains. “You should never take more than 1/4 of any given stand of ramps, and you should always harvest around the edges to lower the risk of unintentionally harming the surrounding bulbs. Also, if you're foraging on any land that is not your own, be sure to get permission -- people are very protective of their ramps.”

Like many of life’s finest things, ramps -- also known as wild leeks -- must happen naturally.

“They’re the very essence of local and seasonal, as they’re nearly impossible to cultivate and have an extremely short growing season,” says McGlashan. “They’re wonderful, not only for their delicate yet complicated array of flavors, but because of that wild ephemeral nature.”

On Sunday, May 5, at the opening day of the Callicoon Farmers Market (a celebratory occasion in itself), the oniony-garlicky essence of ramps will rule, as Slow Food UpDeRiVa presents Ramps Fest. Starting at 11am, you can sample ramp goodies from certified local kitchens: ramp dressing and butter, ramp-enhanced goat cheese, ramp powder and pickled ramps.

Beginning at noon, there will be judging of ramp-oriented art. Come and see, or create your own Ode to the Ramp in your medium of choice and bring it along. All are welcome to submit; the entry judged to be the best will win its creator a Ramp Lamp by Kathie Fitzgerald of Light Touch Shades

At 12:30, experience the Ramp on a Ramp race. What exactly is that? Organizers say you will have to come and find out. Inspired in part by Jeffersonville’s Duck Race, in part by the Soap Box Derby in Port Jervis, it is in all likelihood the first of its kind.

The afternoon wraps up with the judging of the Ramp Recipe Contest. Here, too, you’re invited to jump right in. Whip up a ramp dish for the judges’ delectation, or just marvel at the creations on offer. Ramp Quiche Lorraine? Ramp Ravioli? Think “wide and weird,” advise the Slow Food folks, who themselves have crafted a Dirty Ramp Martini.

Winning recipes will be preserved for posterity in next year’s Ramp Cookbook; you can purchase last year’s along with your own supply of fresh ramps from vendors like Hellers Farm CSA and Lucky Dog Farm.

Ramp Tramp, 2pm, Saturday, 5.4.2013. Channery Hill Farm, 77 Keller Road, Callicoon Center. Ramps Fest, 11am-2pm, Sunday, 5.5.2013. Callicoon Farmer's Market, A. Dorrer Drive, Callicoon Creek Park. For more information on the festivities, check out Slow Food UpDeRiva’s website.